On June 29, 2016, Steven Stamkos' name and PK Subban's were linked. Article after article described that Wednesday afternoon, where between 2 PM and 2:30, the NHL changed forever. Twitter broke the news PK Subban was traded to the Nashville Predators, and not 20 minutes later, Stamkos announced on his Twitter that he had re-signed with Tampa Bay.
These two players had always been high-profile cornerstones for their organizations, but while Stamkos was used to the quieter pace of sunbelt hockey and clearly welcomed more years of his career in Tampa, Subban was not. Yesterday's video tribute for Subban's return to Montreal might have proven that Subban's heart is still made for the limelight of Montreal.
This is not the first time the two players have been linked. In the midst of Stammergeddon Deux, Montreal hockey writers brought up the fact that Stamkos once played with Subban when they were children. "Is friendship with P.K. Subban enough to lure Steven Stamkos to Montreal?" one writer wondered. In the 1998-99 season, when they were seven and eight years old respectively, Stamkos and Subban played together for the novice AAA team, North York Canadiens.
When Tampa and Montreal met in the Atlantic Division final in 2015, the Toronto Sun found their old coach, Doug Sheppard, and interviewed him about their time with the North York team. Sheppard scouted both players early, mentioning that the team only lost four games all season with those two in the lineup, going on to win the Coronation Cup for the Greater Toronto Hockey League championship.
Of ten-year-old Subban, Sheppard said:
"The first game I saw, he scored two goals from centre," Sheppard said. "Opposing players were jumping out of the way. They wanted no part of being hit by one of those shots."
Already bigger than the majority of players his age, when P.K. wound up, even the spectators probably considered diving into the nearby snack bar for cover, even if it meant spilling their stale hot chocolates minor hockey rinks are so well known for.
While Subban could fire missiles, he wasn't the quickest player on his feet. So, after wooing P.K. to the North York Canadiens, Sheppard experimented with switching him from centre to the blue line.
"He was such a big boy, so his skating was a bit lacklustre," Sheppard said. "We decided to move him back. We knew he'd be effective at the back."
Especially since it was suddenly OK within the rules to start crushing opponents.
"It was the first year they put body checking in, so no one was going to run P.K. He was too big. It created room for he and his teammates."
To no one's surprise, Subban was an outgoing chap even back then, a kid who had "tons and tons of personality" according to Sheppard. As for P.K.'s on-ice game, Sheppard could see Subban had the components that, with work and refinement, could lead to a career in hockey.
And according to Sheppard, Stamkos was the "Wayne Gretzky" of the GTHL, but had a weak shot.
"He was so smooth, such a playmaker. He knew where the puck would end up before it even got there."
Having said that, was it true that the Achilles heel for Stamkos - he of the lethal one-timer - was his shot?
"I can verify that," Sheppard said. "But he was so good at everything else we didn't need him to shoot."
How did Stamkos improve his shot so that he could hit the net as well as make plays? Sheer hard work, Sheppard said. “[H]e would go to a place in a strip mall in Vaughan to practice his shot, firing puck after puck after puck off a rubber mat.”
Their time together was memorialized in a famous photo.
The nostalgia for those times was so great that during the 2015 playoffs, the third player from the infamous photo of Stamkos and Subban in Canadiens sweaters, Lukas Head, had an article written just about him.
Here's hoping we see that famous one-timer again soon.